Last night, the City Commission voted 6-1 to place on the November ballot a request to cap the Brown Bridge Trust Fund * at $12 million for five consecutive years (Record Eagle). The goal with the cap is, if assumptions based on the fund’s history stand, to make available $3 million dollars over the five-year period to invest in capital improvements to parks. The fund’s current balance is $13.2 million and grows each year based on royalties from oil and gas exploration. The City receives an annual deposit into the general fund from the interest of the fund that is around $300,000. The current proposal has a catch, as it also requires matching funds from outside of the city be obtained before the money can be withdrawn and ultimately spent.
As an ardent supporter of parks, I voted against the proposal. During the 2014-15 budget discussion, which was approved last night, I offered that if the City Commission sees parks as a priority that the budget would reflect those values with the creation of a dedicated Capital Improvement Fund for Parks, something that is a stated goal in the Five-year Parks and Recreation Plan. Last night I made the following motion and failed to get second, so it didn’t come up for a vote:
…to amend the budget with the addition of a Capital Fund for City Parkland in the amount no less than $300,000, with money from the general fund and/or money from the Economic Development Fund (The EDF’s balance is $2,042,210 and has barely been touched in the last decade.)
In the end, if today was the November election day, I’d vote yes for the ballot initiative. I see great potential for Traverse City to invest in our parks. As a commissioner, I also continue to support great ideas in how we can improve our public spaces, regardless of the vote result in November. Basically–Yes for Parks!
Below the contact form are my prepared comments from last night. Let me know what you are thinking and, if interested, let’s meet up and talk parks.
Remarks from May 19 City Commission Meeting
I support parks as a necessary investment by local government. Healthy park systems are not driven by special grants, supplemental funds, or heroic effort by citizens. We certainly need to use those opportunities for great parks, however, if we truly support parks–if they indeed are a priority–a dedicated capital fund for parks is needed.
Well designed parks that provide for multi-generational activity provide economic and social benefit. The benefits of improved property values and revenues are well documented. Also well documented is the role of parks to attract and retain homeowners, workers and retirees. A recent AARP survey put parks as the third most desired resource older Americans look for close to home, trailing only transportation options and a grocery store.
We need to be embrace the strong role parks play throughout the city and if it is a priority, as I’d argue it needs to be, it needs to be a regular, dedicated part of our budget.
I support seeking voter approval to utilize the Brown Bridge Trust Fund (BBTF), however, the current proposal is flawed in process and vision. It creates unnecessary risk of funding where there could be 100% certainty if the City Commission created a dedicated funding source. There is money available in our budget and if it was an either-or decision, I’d support creating a parks fund over a stormwater fund. Not because stormwater mitigation isn’t important, but because we don’t need another savings account set aside for some future project that may or may not have funding when the time comes, particular when the SAW grant we are currently administering will also include recommendations on funding sources.
There is also a robust savings account that we call the Economic Development Fund, and at one time I believe was called the Community Development Fund. Its balance is $2,042,210. You don’t find many activities that create economic value as directly as investing in parks. It enhances property values and improves the marketability of properties.
We have exerted minimal effort to engage the voters regarding the BBTF. The only public survey we do have available was conducted by an ad hoc group from Parks and Recreation Commission and the results suggest an uphill battle to garner voter approval with the current language. In surveys conducted at several neighborhood association meetings, there was widespread support for investing in our parks, but at the same time, surprise that the city doesn’t currently have a committed capital fund dedicated to parks. The perception among engaged citizens is that parks need to be funded as standard practice.
If this commission chooses to move forward with the current ballot language, I’ll certainly get on board and make the best of what I feel is not the best approach. As stated several times, I support the creation of a dedicated fund for parks. I don’t support the process or the language before us tonight…it lacks a strategic plan and clear objectives beyond funding. The arbitrary nature of the request may be simple, but it’s simplicity leaves a lot of questions the answers to which have a wide array of varying answers.
* CHAPTER XIII
Section 129. Trusts. All trusts heretofore established for cemetery, park or other purposes shall be used and continued in accordance with the terms of the trusts. The City of Traverse City may, in its discretion, receive and hold any property in trust for cemetery, park or other public purposes and shall apply the same to the execution of such trusts and for no other purposes whatsoever. All money to be derived from the rights to explore for oil, gas and/or minerals on the Brown Bridge or other property of the City of Traverse City, together with production money (royalties), shall be placed in a perpetual trust fund in one or more banking institutions designated by the City Commission. This fund shall be known as the Brown Bridge Trust Fund, all portions of which shall be invested in obligations of the United States of America. The income from said Trust shall be used to supplement City taxes as a credit against the General Fund levy as established yearly by the City Commission. Said funds shall remain a perpetual trust, the principal of which shall not be used except by a three-fifths (3/5) majority vote of the qualified electors voting thereon.